Despite all the conflict and upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco remains a moderate, welcoming and heterogeneous country. During our recent trip, we never had the slightest concern for our safety. And while the call of the muezzin floats over the Marrakech medina five times a day, the city’s numerous restaurants serve Moroccan wine of surprising quality and several of our Berber guides referred to the city’s rich Jewish history with pride.
It is not often that we find a hotel that seems close to perfection, but our experience at the Royal Mansour was wholly exceptional. Created by the King of Morocco as a showpiece, the property opened in 2010, but it wasn’t until late 2016 that the 53-riad (traditional house) hotel completed its outdoor pool and gardens.
Check-in took place in the main courtyard, an expanse of marble and mosaic tile centerpieced by a perfumed fountain. A staff member then gave us a tour of the grounds, laced with little canals, before guiding us to our magnificent accommodations. These came with hand-painted wainscoting, embroidered silk, carved plaster and, in the bath, dual vessel sinks each hewed from a single piece of marble. The Royal Mansour has two restaurants overseen by Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno, and we opted for the superlative eight-course tasting menu at La Grande Table Marocaine. When the time came to leave the hotel, we understood how the Moorish Sultan Muhammad XII must have felt when he was ejected from the Alhambra in Granada.
During our visit to Marrakech, we stayed at two other hotels, La Sultana Marrakech in the Kasbah quarter and L’Hotel Marrakech at the heart of the medina. Alas, both had too many minor deficiencies to be recommended without reservation.
The next stage of our journey took us to the foothills of the Atlas mountains, where we enjoyed a memorable few days at the Kasbah Tamadot, a crenellated castle backed by snow-covered peaks. This was followed by a blissful sojourn at Dah Ahlam, a 14-suite hotel that has been created within a mud-walled kasbah in the ancient caravan stop of Skoura. After two hits, a miss was inevitable, and our overnight stay at the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp in the Sahara proved memorable but not always for the right reasons!
As a complete contrast, this Hideaway Report also contains a description and assessment of the new 37-room Villa Maïa hotel, which overlooks the gracious city of Lyon from a hilltop perch in the historic Antiquaille district. The work of renowned architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and celebrated designer Jacques Grange, the property provided a serene and stylish base, from which we ventured out to explore the gastronomic capital of France.